From Branscomb, California, a tiny town of 100 people in rural Mendocino County, Judith Harwood's family goes back four generations in this neck of the woods. The Harwood family owned a sawmill in Branscomb until 2007, and were considered quite progressive and liberal in the timber industry. Judith feels "this background helped me to look at innovative solutions for local issues that benefit the economy and the environment, as well as the people that live there."
Judith struggled a bit after graduating high school. She went straight to UC Davis, but dropped out for personal reasons, returned home and got a job stocking shelves before deciding to try college again. She came to Mendocino College because it was the closest community college to Branscomb, but more importantly, returning to college gave her the direction she needed. With no idea what she wanted to pursue, Judith took courses to explore alternatives. She decided on environmental economics and began to prepare for transfer to a four-year college in that field. Her classes included environmental science, economics, pre-calculus and general chemistry.
Judith feels Mendocino College was an ideal choice, especially taking such a rigorous course of study: "The small class size, and hands on approach from professors were huge contributing factors to my success. That, and the ability to be actively engaged in each class made college so much more interesting for me."
It's not often you hear that science, math and chemistry are fun, but Judith credits Mendocino College faculty for that: "Steve Cardimona (Geology and Environmental Science), Jerry DeChaine (General Chemistry), and Debra White (Statistics and Pre-Calculus) all created an environment where learning was fun. Steve asked me to tutor geology and treated me almost like a peer, which boosted my confidence as a student.
While Judith had a little trouble in Jerry DeChaine's General Chemistry class, there was a very happy ending. "I actually failed my first General Chemistry test," she recalls. "After numerous trips to his office and a whole lot of patience on Jerry's end, at the end of my second semester, when I found out I aced the final and got an A in the class I said thank you to Jerry. His response was "why are you thanking me, you did it!" General Chemistry was the toughest class, I have ever taken (including graduate school) and when I got into UC Berkeley he looked as proud as my own parents.
Debra White made math fun too; I took statistics again when I got to Berkeley, which made me realize just how important a good teacher is to actually make you like the class."
Judith credits her attitude about education to her entire family as well. "I have a family that values education which made me feel that it is important as well."
From Mendocino College, Judith went to UC Berkeley, and graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Economics. She then decided to reach even higher, and was accepted at Columbia University in New York City to pursue a masters degree in Public Administration.
Was she afraid to travel 3,000 miles across the country, live with total strangers in a strange place and tackle Columbia? "Definitely, there were so many times that I jumped into something with both feet having no idea what to expect on the other side. The best example was going to graduate school in New York City. I had never even visited Columbia. I got off of the plane, by myself, at five in the morning, with no idea where my new apartment was, who my roommates were, what the neighborhood was like. As the sun came up on that first morning while I was waiting for campus housing to open so that I could find out where I would be living for the next year, I looked out over the city and literally wanted to cry. I could not believe that this was my reality. For me it was just about doing it—deciding on something and going for it. I never fully adjusted to living in New York, but I did it—I got my Masters' degree at one of the most prestigious universities in the United States." (Judith graduated with an M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia.)
Today, Judith is grateful to be back in Branscomb, and able to support herself doing something she really cares about. She is proud to working for two unique non-profits in the region, proud of the work they are doing locally. The first is MendoFutures, a non-profit that "does facilitation and consultation for local environmentally, economically and socially beneficial non-profits and projects," Judith explains. "We have helped facilitate everything from food localization events to convening Mental Health Service providers and guiding them through a process to help them redesign the County Mental Health system."
The second organization Judith is really excited to be working with is the Mendocino County Woody Biomas Working Group (WBWG). WBWG is interested in utilizing excess woody biomass in overcrowded forest stands throughout Mendocino County in a "3-E" manner—which means it's ecologically, economically and equitably beneficial. In 2011, Judith successfully wrote a grant for $250,000 to fund this revolutionary project. In collaboration with the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) they are about to implement the "Mendocino County Biochar Demonstration Project." Grant funds will be used to purchase a small piece of equipment that converts woody biomass into a soil amendment and carbon sequestration tool called biochar. Through the production and sale of biochar, this project could potentially create a model for landowners to pay for the cost of doing forest restoration on their land.
When asked where she gets her motivation, Judith replied, "I am a highly competitive person, so while I was in school, before I even knew what I wanted to do in life, I was motivated to be the best in every class that I took. I also have a passion for knowledge—I truly like understanding things—not just learning something for a test, but actually understanding things at an intuitive level. Now what motivates me is having a career that supports me, and improves our local environment and economy."
As for success, Judith feels the key is "knowing what success is for yourself is what is really important." In school, Judith always studied hard, and usually spent more than than anyone else preparing for a test. "If I didn't understand something, I would research, ask questions, not be afraid to admit that I didn't understand something in order to figure it out. I was lucky to be naturally good in school, but I think anyone can succeed if they try their hardest."
Judith's future dreams are to continue to do the work that she is doing, and see some of the projects that she's working on come to fruition. Mendocino College is proud to have such a gifted young woman back home and working for the benefit of our local community. It's an exciting time for Judith, who can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
Mendocino College Student Success Story
Date of Interview: June 25, 2012
Written by Christine Mullis